We always imagine a book’s story in our mind’s eye as we read. Sometimes we’re lucky enough to see our favorite stories get turned into TV shows or movies. But it’s a rare treat to get to see one of our beloved books on the stage! But that’s just the special treatment that Rick Riordan’s beloved Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Lightning Thief, is receiving. We’ve got a clip for you to check out, as well as a QA with the writer, Rob Rokicki. Tickets are on sale now, if you’re near New York City and want to check it out!
What is it like adapting a beloved YA series to the stage?
It’s been a blast. With source material as good as Rick’s, it’s been really rewarding and fun. The adaptation has also been challenging to say the least. Compressing almost 400 pages into a show is hard, but the brilliant Joe Tracz (book) and I feel like we captured the spirit of the books, which I think is the most important thing. It’s a fine balance to get the tone right — our director, Stephen Brackett also really understands that. The books are savvy, really funny, smart, and full of adventure —but there is also a big beating heart and we never wanted to forget that. We have to care about these characters.
As a stage production, of course changes need to be made to the plot. How did you work to move some of the most important scenes to the stage?
There are different challenges or advantages to translating a work and theatre does things that other media can’t — we have to use our senses and imagination in theatre, and we actually kept some of the biggest events of the book onstage. It’s a true collaboration between our fight director, choreographer, director, music director, sound designer, costume designer, set designer and more to make things leap from the page to the stage in a way that I think is fun, unexpected and thrilling. You have to pick which scenes set up character and motivation and those dictate what become stage worthy. As for the nitty gritty of storytelling, songs are a great way of compressing plot and time — especially rock songs with their verse/chorus structures — it gets out information in a fun fast way.
How do you decide which moments are worthy of a song — and what kind of song to insert (ballad, fast paced, etc.). Does it have to do with mood or action or … ?
It’s funny, but Joe and I pick very similar moments where we feel there needs to be music. When emotion is high and the characters can no longer speak, they have to sing. Form tends to dictate function — if it’s an intense chase from a Minotaur, I want a scary fast snarling electric guitar or organ and I turn to heavy rock, or for more epic magical moments I look at classical music (Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” always inspires me). The type of character also affects how I write, Grover is a fun-loving satyr so I tend to write more folk-flavored acoustic guitar tunes-like his song about Thalia and “The Tree on The Hill.” Whereas, Annabeth is incredibly smart, so I use more “note-y” piano figures like a calculator or computer. Percy has a lot of mixed emotions, so I tend to write on electric guitar for him — very angsty. The lyrics also have to be in the voice and vernacular of the character, I look back to the book often or will take a scene Joe has written and will make a key phrase or dialogue into a song. I write songs from the hook — the central “want” or action. The songs have to further the plot and they have to make the characters grow. I use songs as moments of montage too, to help with a passage of time.
Here’s an amazing clip to check out: